Re: On the right and left of Jesus (fwd)

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun Sep 15 1996 - 09:30:26 EDT

At 6:21 AM -0500 9/15/96, Mike Phillips wrote:
>> Stephen C. Carlson wrote:
>> >
>> > I would say that Matthew's (and Mark's) audience was surely familiar
>> > with the Is53:12 prophetic proof-text ("and he was numbered with the
>> > transgressors") as some MSS of Mark attest at 15:27. Thus, Jesus'
>> > comments can be understood to mean that those places at his "right and
>> > left" had been prepared at least as far back as Isaiah the prophet,
>> > if not earlier.
> Given the state of our own Church's education, I am beginning to
>question the assumption that any given evangelist's audience was familiar with
>any given scriptural assertion. One could possibly argue that Mark was
>familiar with it, and I think the line of reasoning is sound given what there
>is to work with (i.e., I believe it is just as sound to argue that Jesus was
>speaking about his 'coming crucifixion' as it is sound to argue that Jesus was
>refering to his 'coming glory' as Jack posits (again, with fair assumptions)
>> From: Jack Kilmon <>, on 9/14/96 11:43 PM:
>> >
>> The two disciples who were seeking places of honor by Jesus side
>> were his two cousins, Yaqub and Yohanon bar Zebediya. The issue should
>> be perceived more from their own Jewish standpoint rather than the
>> hellenized perspective. It is ironic that the one thing that gentile
>> Christianity leaves out of its eschatology is the central and primary
>> focus of Jesus' ministry...the coming of the "Kingdom of God." Messiahship
>> dictated a messianic dynasty explaining the assumption of the leadership
>> of the "kingdom movement" Yeshuine Jews by Jesus' brother Yaqub (James).
> Of course, one could ask here, _which_ understanding of messiahship is
>being referred to, as I don't believe we have a consensus view in 2nd Temple
>Judaism(s) as to what a messiah might look like or should look like. Your
>Gospel of Thomas citation is certainly a possible solution, or it might be a
>reinterpretation and embellishment of an ambiguous inheritance, i.e., What did
>Jesus mean / say? Well, here is what Jesus meant / said. It seems that
>ambiguity demands an answer, and it is human nature to make one up when none
>presents itself -- some things haven't changed a bit in 2000 years <grin>. I
>for one tend to think we should retain a bit of the ambiguity, however, I want
>to reiterate that I think both positions (which are interpretations) are
>There are also other (I presume) "valid" interpretations which have not been
>put forward here. I would like to hear from Carlton regarding any classical /
>Hellene literature parallels, since whether or not Mark was working with a
>Semitic tradition, he was certainly preaching to a Hellenized world, and Jesus
>comes out looking a bit more like a God/man in Mark than a messiah, in my own
>opinion. A classical / Hellene parallel might present just as fair a
>as GThomas, since Mark may have been interpreting things people really were
>familiar with (a biography of a great philosopher, for example) as opposed to
>citing (by allusion) an obscure (possibly not prophetic until after Christian
>tradition needed it to be so via post-res midrash) verse / pericope in Isaiah.

I am somewhat reluctant (1) to enter into this very interesting discussion
at all, especially as it is one where one's critical and theological
presuppositions are likely to get in the way of "objective" discussion, and
(2) to cite the whole of Mike Phillips' own and embedded messages, but I
cannot withhold a brief comment here.

(1) I suspect that Stephen Carlson has already read and dismissed Norman
Perrin's discussion (in _What is Redaction Criticism) of this pericope and
its function in the threefold Marcan cycle (in Mark 8-10) of Passion
prediction + misunderstanding by disciples of wht discipleship is + sermon
by Jesus on Messianic role and role of disciples. I still think, however,
that Matthew's version with the mother of James and John putting the
question rather than the sons of Zebedee themselves, IS most likely meant
to soften the presumptuousness of such a question coming directly from the
disciples, who are certainly not exposed in Matthew to the almost ruthless
sarcasm surrounding them in Mark's gospel.

(2) I think that the positions at the right and the left of Jesus in glory
probably are meant to be positions of honor, but the discussion has been
interesting in disclosing alternative possibilities of interpretation and
has brought to light more than one possibility that I was never aware of
hitherto. Perhaps it is worthwhile to be reminded occasionally (so long as
it's not TOO frequently!) of how much there is in the gospels that we do
NOT wholly understand.

(3) The matter that I am particularly reluctant to raise goes beyond the
direct interpretation of the Greek text into the broader area of tradition
history--but I think this is perhaps unavoidable inasmuch as Stephen's
original question arose, I doubt not, from his relentless efforts to probe
the synoptic problem and prepare a Greek synopsis for his web site, but I
think, personally, that this pericope cannot be historical in origin but
must depend upon the development of baptism and eucharist as ecclesiastical
institutions both interpreted in terms of the death of Jesus. At least, it
seems to me that Mark's version already depends upon these institutions
beingin place as he writes. I realize, of course, that many will prefer to
see an omniscient Jesus understanding this theology of the sacraments in
advance of his own death and resurrection. I think, however, that the story
as we have it in Mark presupposes a theology of the sacraments in place,
and that there are pieces of the understanding of "those for whom it has
been prepared" that we may not be able o recover readily from the unknown
early ecclesiastical history.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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